Dinner with the Fam

We began our vacation in the panhandle and now we’re down in Central Florida visiting family and friends.  Instead of going out to eat, we opted to make dinner at home.  I love spending time in the kitchen with my family.  We’re fun when we cook.

Dinner was themed around two things: Robert wanted to make a mediterranean appetizer dip and Jenna wanted apple pie.  Actually, the conversation with Jenna went something like this:

Jill (after hearing Robert’s idea) – Let’s make a Greek themed dinner.

Jenna – What are some Greek desserts?

Artie – Baklava.

Jenna – How about apple pie?

The dinner spread:

Salad (green leaf letture, spinach, parsley, chopped yellow bell pepper, feta, and walnuts) served with the last of this season’s citrus (sectioned by Grandpa right before dinner)

Baked salmon (recipe from allrecipes.com).  Tender, flaky, and flavorful.  We had 8 people at dinner and we demolished 2-1/2 pounds of salmon.

Eight-Layer Mediterranean Dip (recipe from Whole Foods website).  It had a nice texture from the chopped artichokes and olives and tasted good with the potatoes and the salmon.

Baked sweet potatoes – cut three smallish sweet potatoes into steak fries, rubbed with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.

Herbed Greek Roasted Potatoes with Feta Cheese (recipe from allrecipes.com).  Who doesn’t love a good potato?

All together now:

It was a great meal to share with family and friends.  I did get a little excited when I was serving the salmon and a chunk of it ended up in my chardonnay – oops!

After dinner we indulged in a favorite Volpe family pastime – watching home videos.  Last night’s selection was from 1985 – 1986 and featured Robert and me as toddlers.  It was fun to watch and we laughed until we cried.

For dessert, two kinds of pie: Apple and Cherry Pie and Blueberry Pie.  The Apple and Cherry Pie is an Emeril recipe from foodnetwork.com and the Blueberry Pie is from allrecipes.com.  The pie ingredients, all lined up (looks like an ad for Publix):

For the Apple and Cherry Pie, I doubled the amount of cherries because I had a sous chef to pit two pounds of cherries for me (even if they did turn her fingers brown!).

The blueberry pie got a simple lattice top (details about making a lattice top, see this post).

I didn’t get a finished picture of all the pies, but I had so much Apple and Cherry Pie filling (on account of using three HUGE apples and 2x the amount of cherries) that I had enough to make both a pie and a crostata (an Italian fruit tart/free form pie).

My plate, with a taste of each, plus vanilla ice cream (a must with fresh fruit pies).

It was a great night of family, friends, and food!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I wrote the review below two years ago when I first listened to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This week, as we criss cross the state, Artie is joining me as I listen to the book again. So far we’ve listened to about 3 hours and it is just as good, if not better, than I remembered. As evidenced by the review below, I’m a huge fan of this book and would put it at the top of a list of great summer reads for anyone interested in food.

Okay, so technically I’m not reading this book, I’m listening to it. Regardless of the delivery mechanism, I am ingesting every morsel of this tasty read and every serving leaves me hungry for more. So far I’ve listened to about five hours of this 14-1/2 hour audiobook. The 2007 book by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver is part memoir and part journalistic investigation. The book tells the story of how one family spent a year deliberately eating only locally produced food. The writing is engaging and, at times, almost conversational in a way that draws the reader and/or listener into the story. In addition to talking about the family garden, feeding a party crowd with only locally produced food, and the joys of eating freshly cut asparagus, the book outlines real problems related to our food, including the controversy over genetically modified foods, greedy seed companies, the problem of food distribution, and the extinction of the local farmer in favor of large, subsidized, commodity crops. The sidebars by Hopp provide information about numerous topics that are interesting to me, including the cycle of poverty and hunger, where he gives a shout out to Heifer Project International – yeah! I know my review isn’t doing justice to this wonderful book. Let me conclude by saying that this book is interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking. Although I consider myself a person who is conscious about the size of my carbon footprint, and the quality of my (mostly vegetarian) food, this book has prodded me to think more closely about seeking out fresh, local produce. Although Artie and I already travel to Bainbridge on a regular basis to raid the in-laws garden, there are still many foods that we eat that travel a long distance, and are therefore heavy laden with oil. Not literally laden with oil, but lots of oil went into producing and transporting the food. For what? The convenience of out-of-season, watery tomatoes? Tomatoes that were bred for uniform size and disease resistance, perhaps to the detriment of their flavor? This book has asked me to consider whether I am willing to seek out local, seasonal flavors, and reduce the amount of oil in my food. Whether I am willing to pay a little bit more to make sure that the family farmer doesn’t become a thing of the past, relegated to the pages of children’s book and folk lore. More to come as I progress through this juicy read. Pun intended.

More information: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com

Fiesta Spinach Salad

Oh, this was soooooo good!  On Wednesday, after a long day of cleaning out the storage closet at work (no small feat!) followed by a post-work bike ride, all I wanted for dinner was something simple and delicious that used up some random ingredients in my fridge: black beans, an avocado on its last leg, and spinach.  Enter my creation of the Fiesta Spinach Salad:

Start with a bed of spinach (I used two big handfuls).  I give mine a quick chop first.

Top with chopped bell pepper.  I used 1/2 of a large pepper, but you could use the whole thing if you bought a small one.

Top with about 1/2 cup-ish of black beans – I just eyeballed it.

Top with the protein of your choice.  I’m currently in love with Amy’s veggie burgers, which I mentioned before in this post.  As far as frozen veggie burgers go, these have the best texture, flavor, and ingredient list, hands down.

Top with 1/2 a small avocado.  Want to know an easy way to dice an avocado?  After slicing the avocado in half lengthwise, carefully score the avocado (make crisscross cuts that don’t pierce the skin).

Then carefully use a spoon to scoop the avocado out of the skin.  So easy!

To keep the other half of the avocado from turning brown (the technical term is oxidative enzymatic browning – can’t believe I remember that from an undergraduate nutrition class!), wrap the avocado in plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is touching the entire surface of the avocado.  This will keep the other half from turning brown as quickly.

Back to the salad – top the whole creation with a healthy amount of salsa.  
Another one of my favorites.  Paul Newman, what a guy!  Artie and I probably go through a jar of this each week.

Finally, give the entire thing a sprinkle of cheese.  We had white cheddar on hand.

Mmmmm so good.  This was easy to assemble (only got 6 dishes dirty – a cutting board, a knife, the cheese grater, a spoon, a fork, and a bowl), tasty, and exactly what I was craving.  It was enjoyed with an episode of this:
And the recipe was easily replicated the next morning to make for a delicious Thursday lunch:

The second time around, I didn’t have much spinach left (maybe a handful or so?) so I added in about a cup of raw broccoli florets, chopped into little pieces, and it worked really well.

Have a great weekend!

Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry

Back in college, Jill’s favorite food was broccoli. As noted in a previous post, Jill’s current favorite food is eggplant. This current favorite is followed closely by tofu. In honor of these favorite foods, I created this stir fry.

The Ingredients

To make this stir-fry, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant, diced into small cubes
  • 14 oz extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry with paper towels, and diced into small cubes
  • 6 oz broccoli florets
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh Cilantro (optional)
  • Lemongrass (optional)
  • Cashews
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Low sodium soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Vegetable oil
Extra Firm Tofu
Extra Firm Tofu

Although I have a well seasoned wok, I always have better luck cooking tofu in a non-stick pan, so I made this stir-fry in a large non-stick pan instead of a wok.

To make this stir-fry, first cook the the tofu: heat 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat.  Add four cloves of minced garlic and about 1/4 teaspoon of finely chopped lemongrass stalk. I added the fresh lemongrass because I have it growing in my garden, but it can be left out of this recipe. Let the garlic and lemongrass infuse flavor into the oil for a minute or two, then, with a slotted spoon, remove the garlic and lemongrass from the oil and set aside in a small bowl.  Gently sauté the tofu cubes in the flavor-infused oil until they turn golden brown.  Once golden brown in color, remove the tofu from the skillet and set aside.

Golden Brown Tofu
Golden Brown Tofu

Add the broccoli florets to the pan and stir-fry for about two minutes.  Add the eggplant and cook together for about three minutes before adding the yellow pepper. Stir-fry the broccoli, eggplant, and yellow pepper together for another two minutes until the vegetables are cooked but the broccoli and pepper are still slightly crispy. Add the garlic and lemongrass mixture and the tofu to the vegetable mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine three teaspoons of Sriracha sauce, six teaspoons of low sodium soy sauce, six teaspoons of water, and one teaspoon of sesame oil. Add the sauce to the stir-fry mixture and stir gently to combine.  Top with a chiffonade of basil and cilantro and cook until the sauce is absorbed, about two or three minutes.

Stir Fry
Stir-fried vegetables and tofu

Serve the stir-fry over brown rice and garnish with cashews, basil, and sriracha sauce. Since the sriracha sauce is somewhat spicy, I added a little more to mine than I did to Jill’s.

Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry
Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry

Square Foot Garden

Maybe it’s in my genes or maybe it’s in my blood, but I love growing things. I have fond memories of digging up sweet potatoes with Papa Burnum and riding in the field checking on the cows and the garden with Papa AE. In school I enjoyed putting dirt and seeds into mason jars and learning about plants while watching the seeds sprout and grow.

Perhaps trying to recapture some of childhood wonder, I decided earlier this year to build a square foot garden in my backyard. It is called a square foot garden, because the grid layout results in individual one foot by one foot squares.

Creating the Grid System
My knot work

Since my garden is four feet by four feet, I have sixteen cells to plant. After constructing the garden, I filled it with a mixture of compost, potting soil, and garden soil. I then planted a variety of herbs and vegetables.

Square Foot Garden
My Square Foot Garden

For the initial spring garden, I planted rainbow chard, kale, cabbage, parsley, lavender, oregano, and a bird eye pepper.


The bird eye pepper died almost immediately, but the chard, kale, and oregano grew incredibly well. Basil quickly replaced the bird eye pepper spot.

Rainbow Chard
Rainbow Chard

In about a month, the cabbage grew from this:

Baby CabbageTo this:

Adult Cabbage

The garden fresh vegetables have been used in a variety of dishes ranging from Scallops with Chard Risotto to Cheesy Polenta with Kale. Check back for garden updates and recipes featuring our garden fresh herbs and vegetables.

Blueberry Breakfast Parfait

I love blueberry season.  There are so many delicious preparations for blueberries: pies, pancakes, cobblers, muffins, in oatmeal, in a fruit salad, on top of frozen yogurt . . . the list goes on.  Sure, you can buy fresh blueberries in December at Publix, but they are so much cheaper and better tasting in the summer.  Given my love of fresh blueberries, it would follow that my go-to breakfast right now would feature my favorite summer fruit.  Behold the Blueberry Breakfast Parfait:

Blueberry Parfait 2

Yes, I make my breakfast in an old almond butter jar.  That’s just how I roll.

The ingredients include 1/2 cup Kashi Heart to Heart cereal (my favorite), 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, and 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt (if you don’t like Greek yogurt, substitute your favorite yogurt).

Blueberry Parfait IngredientsTo prepare: Wash the blueberries and gently pat dry with a paper towel.  Sweeten yogurt to taste (sometimes I’ll add a dab of honey).

In a repurposed almond butter or peanut butter jar, layer 3 ounces of yogurt, 1/4 cup cereal, 1/4 cup blueberries, and 1/2 tablespoon almond butter (basically, half of each of the ingredients).  Add the rest of the ingredients in the order above.  Now you can put the lid on the jar and head to work or school to enjoy a great breakfast.  This is best served with a long-handled tea spoon.

Blueberry Parfait 3

This breakfast is low-fat and provides fiber (from the cereal), calcium (from the yogurt), protein (from the almond butter and the yogurt), and antioxidants (from the blueberries).  It is also filling and perfectly portable.  If you switch up the cereal, yogurt, or type of fruit, the combinations are endless (or at least enough to keep me from getting bored by the end of the summer!).


Perfect PB&J

I should start this post by saying that I do not like jam or jelly at all. I have unpleasant memories of globby grape jelly on my childhood peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  But this stuff is great on PB&J:

Crofter's SuperfruitCrofter’s makes four superfruit flavors: Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.  I love that the ingredient list is simple and completely organic: organic fruit, organic fair trade cane sugar, natural fruit pectin (gelling agent), and ascorbic acid (preservative).

The only flavor I’ve tried so far is the North American (pictured above), but I have the other three flavors on standby in the pantry (there was a sale at New Leaf, so we stocked up!).  The North American blend has a sweet, slightly tart flavor but I think more than anything, I like the texture. There are pieces of whole berries and it isn’t terribly sweet or syrupy.

My new favorite snack, especially before a bike ride:

PB, Jelly, and Sandwich with bite
Almond butter and Superfruit Spread on a sandwich thin. Yummy in my tummy.

I first saw Crofter’s on a blog that I follow (http://katheats.com) and I was intrigued.  It isn’t available at Publix, but I finally found it at a local grocery co-op, and a search on the Crofter’s website revealed that it is for sale at a number of health stores across Florida.  I would highly recommend this – it takes PB&J from kid food to a yummy, healthy, grown-up snack.

By the way, I am not getting $ or free products from Crofter’s to review their Superfruit Spread, so my opinion is not biased – I just wanted to share that I think it is a great find and part of a great snack!